Most teachers and students across the United States are eagerly counting down the days until their well-deserved and much needed Christmas vacation. My two sons can’t wait to sleep in in the morning, play with their new Christmas toys, and relish a cup of hot chocolate and a good Bugs Bunny cartoon for two straight weeks. I love seeing my ten year old count down the days until Christmas on the advent calendar and I can’t help but to laugh at the excitement of my five year old when he jumps around the living room, hollering at the top of his little lungs that Santa is coming.
But many, many, children are counting down the days on the calendar with dread and fear in their hearts. These are the children who know that for two weeks, they will be forced to be at home with their abusers, unable to escape to school for six hours or get any sort of reprieve from the terror they deal with on a daily basis. Although much shorter, Christmas break is almost worse on an abused child than summer vacation; it’s much easier in the summer to run outside and hide for a couple of hours to get away from your abusive parent.
I’ve previously blogged about Christmastime with my mother and how it was the best five days of the entire year. I have written that I could and did put up with 360 days of abuse just so I could have those five days of wonderful with Mom. And those five days of Christmas vacation, the five days before Christmas, were the most wonderful days of my life. I baked with Mom, listened to old Christmas records, decorated cookies, and wrapped presents for family. Those first five days of Christmas vacation, I finally felt like I had a real mother.
Unfortunately, the Christmas spirit wore off on Mom first thing Christmas morning. Gone was the mother who just the night before carefully held my hand as I piped frosting on fresh sugar cookies; in her place was the mother I knew all too well. The physically and mentally abusive tyrant had returned and I would be trapped in the house with for an additional week with her before I could go back to school.
Trapped is exactly how an abused child feels during extended holiday breaks and our abusers seem to take extra delight in knowing that they have a few days where bruises won’t be noticed and fingernail marks have time to fade. Mom seemed to beat me more during that last week of Christmas break than any other time of the year; and I had nowhere to run and no safe place like school to get away from Mom during the day. By the time school started again in January, I had been beaten down like a dog and made to feel like walking garbage.
If you are a teacher, please think of those kids who want to get excited about Christmas break, but are unable to because they have the same fears I did. Think of those kids who sit and count down the days on the calendar until school is back in session because they need a safe place to go during the day. Give them information on safe houses in their area or give them journals for Christmas presents so they have a way to express themselves during their difficult time. Send a holiday card after Christmas to all of your students to let them know that you didn’t forget about them and that school starts again really soon; any little gesture helps make the days seem a little less bleak for kids in abusive situations.